That sweet, bipartisan feeling

Sixty-six years ago, Harry Truman barnstormed the country on his whistle-stop tour, lamenting the 80th “do nothing” Congress. “The big fundamental issue in this campaign is the people against the special interests,” Truman said.

The confection is identical: Special interests mix with partisan intransigence to make legislative gridlock. But Truman’s lament would register as static in today’s media din. The current 113th Congress defines “do nothing” down. It ranks as the least productive in U.S. history, eclipsing the 80th Congress.

So, when there’s a wash of light — thoughtful, bipartisan lawmaking in the public interest — it needs to be celebrated and, ideally, emulated.

On June 25, the U.S. Senate passed Sen. Patty Murray’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, 95-3. It’s a testament to the leadership and legislative finesse of Washington’s senior Senator that she managed to corral colleagues from both sides of the aisle, fine-tuning a host of workforce programs, some of which were pioneered in Snohomish County.

Murray’s bill was championed by her office neighbor, Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson. The mission is to enhance federal workforce development laws that have idled for years waiting reauthorization. It establishes nimbler state and local workforce development boards, nixes 15 extraneous programs, and applies a single set of outcome metrics.

The WIOA didn’t materialize and earn prompt approval in a vacuum. Real legislating is a tedious slog. Murray worked the phones and huddled with business, labor and workforce honchos to build a coalition and develop legislative language palatable to everyone.

“I’ve seen firsthand that federal workforce programs can change lives, boost our economy, and get people back to work, but we can’t expect to adequately train Americans for jobs at Boeing or Microsoft with programs designed in the 1990s.” Murray said in a statement. “With the global economy changing faster than ever, we need to make sure that when new, 21st Century jobs are created, we have Americans ready to fill them.”

Notwithstanding a do-nothing Congress, lawmakers understand that in matters of jobs and advancing a skilled and adaptable workforce, the best politics is no politics. The innovative Workforce Development Council of Snohomish County is exhibit one, especially its collaborative approach to filling the gap in the aerospace and manufacturing sectors.

In the U.S. Senate, there are workhorses and show horses. Murray demonstrates, time and again, that it’s the workhorse who wins the race.

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